The last decade of the fifth century saw a revolution in siege warfare in Sicily. In 415-413 BC Athens had launched a grand expedition to Sicily. The successes of the Athenian army and navy in the north and center of the island were conspicuous but the enterprise failed in its main objective, the capture of Syracuse. In Thucydides’ account of the siege and the struggle that slowly broke the Athenian hold on the besieged city and ended in the destruction of the Athenian army, what is striking is the undeveloped state of siegecraft. The attackers establish their lines around their objective and trust to starvation or treachery to achieve their ends. The besieged spend their efforts in outworks calculated to break the encirclement. The action consists mainly of pitched battles around the outworks or engagements between the opposing fleets in the Great Harbor. Never is there a mention of a siege tower being advanced to the walls by the attackers, never a mention of rock-or dartthrowing artillery (catapults or ballistas).
All this changed in 409, when the Carthaginian general Hannibal (namesake of Rome’s fearful antagonist of two centuries later) disembarked in Sicily and advanced on Selinus. Hannibal brought siege engines and artillery with him. He took Selinus by assault, and moved on to overcome Acragas, Himera, Gela and Camarina. Five of the greatest Greek cities of Sicily lay ruined and almost deserted. Syracuse survived, and under the tyrant thrown up in the wake of the danger, Dionysius I, there began a furious campaign of work on the fortifications of the city and the production of every kind of armament. We shall come back to Dionysius’ fortifications at Syracuse later. First let us follow him on the counter-attack in which he swept across the island in 397. Dionysius was aided by the plague at Carthage. Greek and Sicel both rose joyfully to join him. The Syracusans and their allies rolled on toward the last Carthaginian stronghold, Motya.
Motya is an island situated in a shallow bay on the western edge of Sicily. In more recent times the island was the property of the Whitakers ofPalermo, an English family whose fortune was based on the trade in Marsala wine. Joseph I.S. Whitaker began excavations there a century ago, and in more recent years work has been pursued by the Sicilian authorities in collaboration with university archaeologists both Italian and English. Motya was never again a city after its capture by Dionysius I in 397. The Carthaginians built a new city at Lilybaeum, the modern Marsala. Because of its securely dated destruction, Motya is a notable archaeological site, and it is even more notable for the drama of its last days.
Motya was connected to the mainland across the shallow lagoon by a causeway which is still visible in air photographs. On the approach of the Greek army the defenders opened a breach in the causeway. The interruption was easily repaired however, and having thwarted reinforcement efforts by sea, the Greeks moved against the walls, which ringed the entire island.
The excavators have been able to give us a precise notion of the defenses protecting the city (figure 189). The Greeks were faced with a city wall the earliest phases of which went back to the seventh century. Over two hundred years of use, sections had been gradually rebuilt as necessary. There were towers projecting from the wall at least by the early sixth century. The structure was sun-dried mud brick and rubble walling above a socle of boulders. The total